At the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, campus diversity is more than a goal: It’s an expectation.
The Ross full-time MBA class of 2018 comprises 40 percent female students, 31 percent international students from 41 countries and 24 percent ethnic minority students. This sort of class composition is the norm at many leading business schools, but a diverse student body is just the first step in creating an inclusive campus environment.
In late February, Ross held its second annual Diversity Week. Around 800 students, faculty and staff participated in the effort, which was organized by the Student Government Association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and co-chaired by Ariana Almas and Caitlin Cordell. The five-day event featured programs that brought students of different backgrounds together for casual gatherings, such as the “Voices Fireside Chat,” where students talked about their personal experiences as they relate to their own distinct identities. Other events, such as “Share Stories, Shape Change: A Conversation About Islamophobia” and an Empathy Workshop with Ross faculty, gave participants an opportunity to see beyond their own perspectives and work together toward more inclusive solutions.
“It was amazing to hear such personal stories from my classmates,” one student said. “They brought me to tears. I wish there were more opportunities to have these types of discussions.”
“It has been important for students to feel Ross is committed to inclusion and to hear perspectives that are different from what they already know,” says Taryn Petryk, director of diversity and inclusion at Ross. Students report that the impact of the event varies. For some, it’s simply an opportunity to speak with and listen to those whose life circumstances differ from their own. For others, it offers a powerful opportunity to share their lived experience with classmates from more privileged backgrounds.
The foundation for Ross’ diversity initiative has been built over the past several years. As part of the school’s strategic mission around diversity, equity and inclusion, a collaborative team collected data from many Ross student groups, such as Out for Business, Michigan Business Women and the Black Business Undergraduate Society. The team also spoke with faculty and staff members from graduate program offices, MBA admissions and more. The long process eventually formed a five-year strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion. But Diversity Week is only one piece of the puzzle.
Even with all of this work, Petryk notes that there’s always more room to improve, including increasing the number of underrepresented minorities and women enrolled at the school. “That is something Michigan Ross continues to work on,” she says. “The inclusion piece for us is about the Ross environment. Do students feel valued? Are we able to leverage differences to increase contributions and to make a difference? How we measure diversity and inclusion really is based on student success. There are different needs for different students.”
As the Ross Diversity Initiative expands, Petryk identifies the goal of maintaining an open and inclusive environment as paramount. “We want to make sure we’re hitting current issues and topics but we always know there’s potential for people to not feel included. I think that, from myself and students I’m working with, there’s a true need and passion to want to be inclusionary.”
Again, Diversity Week is only part of the plan, Petryk notes. “We have a number of different initiatives that happen throughout the year,” she says. We would like to explore potential monthly programming or spread out over the entire year and have more participation in planning from undergraduate students, faculty and staff. We have had a lot of interest from outside corporations and are excited to see where this can go in the future.”
For more information on Ross’ initiative to promote diversity, head over to the school’s official website.